Radiotherapy uses high energy x-rays which are directed at the tumour or areas at risk from the tumour. Radiation damages the DNA in cells and cancer cells tend to be more susceptible to this damage as they are both growing more quickly than normal cells and tend not to be able to repair the damage from radiation as well as normal healthy cells. Radiotherapy is directed at a particular area of the body and apart from general tiredness side effects will be associated with the area of the body receiving treatment, for example radiotherapy to the pelvis may cause loose motions toward the end of the treatment or just after the treatment is completed.
Radiotherapy is normally given as a daily treatment, usually over a number of weeks, but in certain circumstances it can be given as one treatment. Each treatment is called a fraction. Radiation treatment is usually given by a machine called a linear accelerator (or Linac), this looks like a large scanner with a couch and the Linac moves around the person having treatment. It is painless and each fraction of treatment takes a few minutes. People having this sort of radiotherapy are not radioactive and are at no risk to others such a children or pregnant women.
Image guided radiotherapy (IGRT)
Uses the latest technological advances and allows the tumour and other areas to be visualised whilst the treatment is being given to ensure very accurate delivery of radiation to the correct part of the body.
Intensity modulated radiotherapy (IMRT)
Allows radiotherapy to be given very accurately to tumours and protects the adjacent areas from radiation damage by shaping the radiation beam to avoid important organs or structures.
Stereotactic ablative body radiotherapy (SABR)
This is a highly focussed form of radiotherapy giving larger doses of radiation in fewer treatments to small tumours, for example to some types of lung tumours as an alternative to surgery or when surgery is not possible.
Radiotherapy is delivered at Addenbrooke’s Hospital (Cambridge University Hospitals) which is fully equipped with start of the art Linacs, under the supervision of COP radiotherapy consultants.